The Q&A Archives: Yellow Tomato Plants

Question: Each year I have the same problem with my tomato plants. I always mix prepackaged chicken manure with the dirt when I plant. Then I feed with Miracle-gro regularly. When the plants mature and just before the fruit turns red, the leaves on the bottom of the plants turn yellow and eventually the plants die. Am I overfertilizing or do I need to aerate my soil? It's very frustrating and I hope you can help me. I live in Philadelphia, PA if that makes a difference.
I also have a problem with squirrels and rabbits. The squirrels eat my flower bulbs and the rabbits eat any leaves and plants they can reach. How do I keep these pests out of my garden...aside from shooting them!!!??? (Just kidding!!!)

Answer: It sounds like your plants may be suffering from one of the common wilts such as verticillium or fusarium. To avoid these, grow resistant varieties and be sure to rotate your tomato plantings. Also be meticulous about garden clean up -- remove and destroy all plant trash during the season and in the fall. Finally, checking on your soil health periodically is always a good idea so you might want to run some basic soil tests and see how the pH and fertility levels are doing. Then you can add any needed amendments (such as fertilizer) based on the test results. Your County Extension (560-4150) can help you with the tests and with interpreting the results.

Those critters can be very destructive. In my own sad experience, the best way to keep rabbits out is with a fence, although a pet cat or dog can serve as a good deterrent to both rabbits and squirrels. Some gardeners also report success using repellant sprays, either homemade or commercial blends made specifically for this purpose. Finally, some gardeners report good luck using wire mesh cages around their bulbs at planting to deter rodents.

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